Global Policy Forum

S American Nations Create Union to Boost Integration

May 23, 2008

Twelve South American countries signed a treaty here Friday on the establishment of an alliance aimed at boosting economic integration and political cohesion in the region. During a meeting in Brazil's capital city Brasilia, the heads of state of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela inked the agreement to set up the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).


In the document, the countries have committed themselves to developing an integrated regional space in terms of politics, economy, society, culture, environment, energy and infrastructure. South America's integration, which is necessary for the sustainable development of the countries, can help them seek solutions to problems that still affect the region, such as poverty and social inequality, said the agreement. The signing of the treaty has converted Unasur into a corporate body, although it still needs to be approved by the parliaments of the 12 members to become valid.

The function of the new organization will rely on three councils -- the council of heads of state and government, the council of foreign ministers and the council of delegates. In addition, Unasur will have a general secretariat headquartered in Quito, Ecuador's capital city, and a rotating presidency, in which its members will take turns in alphabetical order. The council of heads of state and government will gather once a year to set political guidelines and action plans, as well as projects and programs related to the integration process of South America. Foreign ministers of Unasur members will meet every six months, while the council of delegates, comprised of representatives from each member nation, will hold meetings every two months.

Unasur members vow to strengthen political dialogue, boost social development, eradicate poverty and overcome inequalities in the region, said the agreement. It said the organization's objectives also include the protection of biodiversity, water sources and ecosystems, and the development of concrete and effective mechanisms to tackle differences, Besides, Unasur will promote the integration of industries and production, with special attention to small and medium corporations. The countries said the organization is ambitious in its strategic targets, whose implementation must be flexible and gradual, the agreement said.


South America was becoming a "global actor" in the world arena thanks to Unasur's creation, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. "South America, united, will move (forward on) the board game of power in the world, not for its own benefit, but for everyone's," Lula told a news conference following the signing of the treaty. He added that "a gigantic step" had been taken in the region. "The first (step) was taken when the presidents agreed that together we will be much more sovereign and that together we will be able to reach the level of development targeted by the people we represent," Lula said. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, whose country took on the temporary presidency of Unasur, said the new alliance would provide political power to the region enabling it to better take part in the global decision-making process. "We want to show that Latin America is capable of speaking with a firm and strong voice and of building effective integration," she said.


At the one-day summit, South American leaders were split over plans for a regional defense council that would resolve conflicts, promote military cooperation and possibly coordinate joint weapons production. Cesar Mauricio Velazquez, a spokesman for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, said in a statement that his country "cannot take part in the South American Defense Council due to the threats of terrorism" it faces at home. But he added that Colombia "does not oppose the creation of a working group to study the theme."

Earlier this week, Uribe announced his refusal to approve the proposal, made by Brazil, saying the Colombian government is experiencing a difficult time in its fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the largest rebel group in the country. Such a regional defense body would not offer solutions to Colombia's problem, Uribe said. After Colombia's rejection of the defense council, the other 11Unasur members agreed to establish a task force to present a revised proposal within three months. Lula said it was not a failure that the leaders did not immediately approve the defense council, adding that the differences between governments were a sign of vitality in the region. "Each time we make a proposal to various countries, it takes months to leave everybody agreeable," he said. "The instability some want to see in our continent is a sign of life, especially political life."

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